Dr. François St-Pierre, a quantitative neuroscientist and neuroengineer, has been named the newest McNair Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine.
The McNair Scholar program at Baylor identifies influential researchers in breast and pancreatic cancer, juvenile diabetes and neuroscience. It is supported by The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and managed by the McNair Medical Institute.
“I am honored to be selected as a McNair Scholar and to join a community of researchers who are leaders in their respective fields. Given the generosity of Robert and Janice McNair and of The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, I now have the resources to develop new technology to study how the brain functions normally and how brain circuits change in neurological diseases,” St-Pierre said.
St-Pierre’s research focuses on optical methods for imaging brain activity with exquisite spatiotemporal resolution. These methods create a more complete and accurate image of how neuronal networks communicate – how they send signals and the paths those signals take – which ultimately guides our behavior. This in turn helps researchers understand what is happening in the brain when those processes are not working correctly.
St-Pierre joined Baylor in August 2015 as an assistant professor of neuroscience. He also is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University.
Prior to joining Baylor, St-Pierre earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Art at the University of Cambridge (U.K.) in natural sciences, with neuroscience as a focus. He completed his Ph.D. in computational and systems biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his postdoctoral fellowship in bioengineering and neuroscience at Stanford University.
While at Stanford, St-Pierre and his colleagues developed several fluorescent protein sensors that respond to the voltage changes that occur when neurons are communicating. Unlike electrophysiological methods, voltage sensors enable monitoring of neural activity simply by imaging and do not necessitate the invasive placement of electrodes near or in the neurons of interests. Voltage sensors also can be targeted to genetically different neuronal populations, thus helping scientists understand the respective roles of specific classes of neurons across the brain.
His work here at Baylor will build on this technology, improving its performance so that it can be used to image deeper, less accessible brain areas. He also aims to develop other tools to perturb or image biochemical processes that occur during learning and memory. Critically, he plans to collaborate with other McNair scholars and local researchers to expand the applications of his technologies to understand brain function in health and disease.
“My research, which aims to develop transformative imaging technologies, is typically considered too risky for traditional granting agencies. The McNair Scholar program will accelerate my work by providing me with the financial support and the network needed to follow disruptive new ideas,” he said.
There are now a total of 13 McNair Scholars at Baylor. To see a full list and to learn more, visit the McNair Scholars program.